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Study the wit and wisdom of @Horse_ebooks

How a Russian spambot about horse books wrote some of the most moving poetry of our age

Not the runny oil” said @Horse_ebooks last Friday. The previous day an equally bizarre tweet simply read “objects and people”. And earlier in the week we were promised momentous revelations when @Horse_ebooks announced, “YOU ARE ABOUT TO DISCOVER LIFE CHANGING INFORMATION!”

So what the hell is @Horse_ebooks? Who or what is behind it? And why, with almost 200,000 followers and millions of retweets, is it so very #meaningful?


In a nutshell, @Horse_ebooks is an automated, spam Twitter account promoting ebooks (not necessarily about horses) available at e-commerce websites run by a company called ClickBank, such as @Horse_ebooks tweets are (seemingly random) snippets derived from a wide range of ebooks.


For real. Spam is often seen as the scourge of Twitter, with bots irritatingly tweeting about diet solutions and trying to trick you into phishing scams. But because of @Horse_ebooks’ wonderful, unpredictable weirdness and benign quality, the account has evaded closure by the network’s spam-hunting algorithms. In fact, it has instead become a key part of Twitter culture and is cherished by many devoted fans.


Some admirers have taken to immortalising their love of @Horse_ebooks in the form of fanfiction and fashion items such as these delightful t-shirts.


Some Twitterbots are pure spam while others have been created specifically for the purposes of comedy, like @TheChocolateMoo which finds anyone tweeting sentences with the phrase “chocolate moose” and replies, demurely, “It’s spelled ‘chocolate mousse.’ ” @Horse_ebooks, however, is unintentionally funny/ominous/enigmatic. Which is partly why it’s so popular.


Very, in Twitterbot terms. As noted above, the account is racing towards 200,000 followers with a current tally of over 184,000. After some digging to try and find the most popular @Horse_ebooks tweet of all time, I came across the beautiful example below, which at the time of writing has enjoyed 6,640 retweets and 4,335 favourites.


A Gawker investigation by Adrien Chen in 2012 revealed here that the creator of @Horse_ebooks was a Russian web developer called Alexey Kuznetsov. Although he did not respond to Chen’s requests for an interview, Kouznetsov’s links to @Horse_ebooks seemed to be subtly acknowledged when his new web design company, LITE webdesign launched with a stylised @Horse_ebooks logo.


One of the projects which attempted, valiantly, to capitalise on the strange and mystical quality of @Horse_ebooks tweets was this Slacktory series of poems gleaned from the account’s feed.


@Horse_ebooks is actually part of a network of Twitterbots set up on exactly the same lines. Take @mystery_ebooks for example, or @HomeEbooks. The thing is, none of these is anywhere near as amusing. The tweets are less off-beat and random, they seem somehow dreary and perfunctory by comparison. And there’s no horse.


Long-time followers of @Horse_ebooks have noticed some interesting recurring characters, themes and plots. One of the more tantalising is the figure of Dalton who appears to have become embroiled in an international criminal conspiracy. One tweet suggested that he faced justice at the hands of the Costa Rican government while others simply present curious vignettes of this shady fraudster:


Finally, consider those moments when @Horse_ebooks seems to speak for itself. The horse, the mind, the super-being. It’s fantastic and terrifying.